Green, saffron and white paint a heady picture in Karachi | india | Hindustan Times
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Green, saffron and white paint a heady picture in Karachi

On Saturday, all roads led to the National Stadium. Or so it seemed. They came in droves, old men in salwaar kameezs and young ones in tight T-shirts and jeans.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2004 00:23 IST

On Saturday, all roads led to the National Stadium. Or so it seemed. They came in droves, old men in salwaar kameezs and young ones in tight T-shirts and jeans, a colourful assortment of women with babes-in-arms and groups of teenage girls proudly walking by.

Some held flags, both Indian and Pakistani, most had walked miles past what seemed like a hundred security barriers to get here and all had come with a purpose. They wanted to connect, to share their joy at what was undoubtedly a special occasion and to send a unified message of peace to the millions watching this game on television in India.

These past couple of days here, there has been no acrimony, no jarring voices loudly protesting that Karachi is not staging a Test match, no incidents that could sour what will hopefully be a "New Beginning".

Karachiites were determined to make sure that the start of this historic series in their city would be one that all who witnessed would remember.

It's difficult to put into words the feeling inside the stadium, in the city or even right through this tour --- this bonding between complete strangers from different sides of a volatile border. To be Indian is to be bombarded by so much warmth and affection that it all gets very emotional.

The Indian team has of course been welcomed with open arms by all with access to them --- airport staff, hotel employees and assorted officials.

But the spontaneous standing ovation that Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag got when they walked out to bat was a touching moment and one that neither will probably forget.

Though the crowd did get somewhat silent when Sehwag launched the first wave of attack, people soon just sat back and enjoyed the run-riot.

Rahul Dravid was being egged on to his century when he lost his concentration and his wicket. There was none of the negative chanting that those of us from north India frequently hear (the "Pakistan hai hais") in Indian stadia even when Pakistan isn't around. Nor was there a mass exodus after the Indian batsmen plundered nearly 350 runs.

Yes, there was a fearsome security ring around National Stadium, but if you were Indian, you got through it fairly easily.

Even the feared Pakistani rangers were apologetic about the amount of security around. One laughingly ushered some of us reporters into the stadium, saying there was no need for Pakistan's guests to be put through so many security checks. "Andar jaane do, andar check ho jayenge," he told an over-zealous colleague. And on Friday, when one of the Rangers found us hanging around outside the stadium in search of a taxi, he found us one, saying he would make sure the cabbie didn't fleece us.

Along with the larger picture, it's been these small gestures -- the way strangers have come up and invited us home, the way unfamiliar faces have made special efforts to make vegetarian food, the way we've been quizzed on every facet of India --- that have made the difference.

Thus far, it's been an experience of a lifetime for those of us lucky enough to be here. The valley of shadows seemingly doesn't exist and we've been welcomed with open hearts. The message from Pakistan is clear. It's up to us to reply.